At this year’s E3, the game that stood out to me the most wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. In fact, it was my very last appointment of the show. I expected to walk in, hear a little bit more about how the game was progressing and then walk out again knowing that I’d have trouble forming a minimum 500 word article out of the whole deal. After all, it was just a game being developed for kids, how cool and exciting could it possibly be?
If you haven’t guessed by now or by some miracle managed to miss the giant name and logo a the top of this screen, the game I’m talking about is Lego Universe and it was easily the single most interesting and intriguing game that I saw.
Why? Why not? It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, looking more like its tongue and cheek brothers of the single player variety (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, etc.) than its brothers in the MMO realm.
Honestly I can sum up my impressions thusly: If the Lego IP franchise (Batman, Harry Potter, etc.) and Little Big Planet got together in some kind of unholy union, the result would be LEGO Universe. It combines the whimsy of the former, in all of its block destroying grandeur with the free flow of imagination and sense of wonder that comes with LBP.
Ok, so here’s a rundown of the premise: Imagination in the world of Lego Universe, is a driving force. Four explorers went looking for it and after finding it, they mess it up. This forms “The Maelstrom,” a force of dark chaos. The Opposite of Imagination that is threatening to destroy the universe. Players will be “fighting” against this force throughout the game.
Players go through the game collecting imagination. That imagination can then be used to build bigger and cooler things.
One of the biggest differences between LEGO Universe and its IP wielding brothers is that, like in almost any MMO, you collect loot. Everything from bricks to models go into your character’s backpack to be used later.
In the spirit of a mini-figure (lego man) being a “flexible identity,” LEGO Universe is a “you are what you wear” style game. In other words, you get your abilities from the stuff you have equipped. So, if you’ve got, for example, a cool sword equipped, then you get the swinging and hacking abilities associated with that sword. While many players dislike this mechanic in traditional MMOs, it really does seem to lend itself to the build-it-yourself mystique surrounding the LEGO franchise.
The feature that the developers feel really sets this game apart from the crowd of MMOs is the property system that allows players to reclaim small worlds from the maelstrom and re-create them in any way they see fit.
Seeing it in action, the property system plays out like the most detailed housing system I’ve ever come across. Not only is it a space that belongs to you that you can invite your friends to, it’s a space that you can literally build for yourself. It is here that the real fun and imagination of LEGO is truly represented in a way that we haven’t necessarily seen in any of the franchise’s previous video game efforts.
Using prefabricated LEGO pieces, players are able to make any number of things, they even have the ability to alter the pre-fabricated pieces in any number of ways. In the demo that we were given, the player built an old style wooden fort.
Believe it or not, the real gem of the system isn’t in the fact that it gives players the ability to build most anything they choose. It is, in fact, when they take this construction one step further and allow players to animate their creations and really bring them to life. I’ll give a few examples:
First: The fort that was built was impenetrable, with a door in front that was shut and locked. Through a few commands, the developers were able to key the door to a keyword typed into chat that would open it.
Second: A dinosaur and a bunch of chickens were created. The chickens were given the command to break apart when touched. One of the chickens was then told to make a noise. In turn, the dinosaur was told that when it hears that noise, it should run and touch the object that made the noise. The result was that the chicken made a noise and the dinosaur walked over and smashed it. Then, another chicken was given the command to make the noise after the first chicken was destroyed. In the end, the dinosaur trashes all of the chickens.
Those two examples give a good idea of how this aspect of LEGO Universe works, appealing both to the very simplistic and to the amusingly complex. So, did I expect a “kid’s game” to be the coolest and most exciting things I was going to see at E3 this year? No, I didn’t, but then again, I like to be surprised.